Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This is what passes for “professional journalism” at the Birmingham News

image This is laughable. 

One expects blatant homerism from columnists writing for Rivals, Scout and 247 sites. One also expects those writers to rely on questionable, unnamed sources to drive the narrative in a light most favorable to the program they’re covering. It’s what they do.

But if you expect a major daily newspaper in the state of Alabama to be an objective observer and provide an unbiased look at a news story affecting one of the two SEC programs in the state, you will be sorely disappointed—maybe even embarrassed—by Kevin Scarbinsky’s column in the Wednesday editions of the Birmingham News. If there is a bigger Auburn crybaby anywhere in the state, you’ll need to look up Phillip Marshall or Jeffery Lee.

Scarbinsky is whining about ESPN’s decision to send Urban Meyer to cover Saturday’s Auburn vs. Clemson matchup in Death Valley. Meyer, former Florida Head Coach and two-time National Championship Winner, knows a little about football and is expected to provide insightful color and technical commentary as the game unfolds.

But the Auburn fambly isn’t happy about the decision, as Meyer has been pointed and specific in his criticism of major college athletics recruiting practices and includes Auburn among the programs he thinks stretch the rules too far.  Auburn fans also deeply believe that Meyer was one of the “wizards behind the curtain” who orchestrated a media conspiracy to wreck their 2010 championship run by exposing the Cam Newton pay for play scheme, a scheme that Cecil Newton admitted to participating in. Newton was briefly declared ineligible as a result of the scheme, only to have his eligibility reinstated by the NCAA, which then took the unusual step of explaining the loophole Auburn used to spring the one-and-done wonder from the NCAA doghouse.

Scarbinsky writes:

In the spring of 2009, after Auburn hit the road in its Tiger Prowl recruiting limos, Meyer told the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun that the NCAA should investigate. He also took a few shots at Auburn's tires.

"We're trying to sell graduation rates and academics and trying the sing and dance routine," he said. "The Florida coaching staff will not be riding around in limos or ripping off our shirts."

That shirt reference was a shot at Lane Kiffin and his Tennessee staff, but still. Even two years later, Meyer trying to drag his program onto the high ground, despite its arrest record, remains a shining example of hypocrisy.

He didn't stop there. In December of 2010, Meyer was the only SEC coach with a vote that didn't put Auburn No. 1 on his final regular-season ballot in the USA Today poll. He put Oregon first and Auburn second.

But those slights pale next to the role Meyer may have played as a wizard behind the curtain of the Cecil Newton-Kenny Rogers story last fall.

According to multiple news reports, before that story broke, Meyer had vowed on a three-way call with his protege, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, and former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond to tell it to The New York Times and ESPN.

Who broke the story of Newton and Rogers asking for money from Mississippi State boosters, Bond included, to send Cam Newton to State? The Times and ESPN.

For those of you keeping score, the NCAA is still investigating the whole “Prowl” affair, and is investigating it as an institutional affair rather than a series of individual secondary violations. But the real laugher is the reference to “multiple news reports” regarding a three-way conference call between Meyer, Mullen and Bond.

His source: A single blog post by the most obtuse Auburn homer on the planet. The blog post is behind’s paywall, but trust me—as a news source it’s about as credible as my Aunt Tootsie’s pool boy.

The alleged three-way call—which at least one of the participants said never happened—had Meyer telling the other two that he was going public with the pay-for-play scheme and tipping off the New York Times and ESPN.

This is what passes as a credible source for the Birmingham News? When was the last time this blog ever ran a story citing a single, unnamed source and passing it off as credible journalism? When the credibility standards of a part-time blogger exceed those of Alabama’s largest newspaper, it’s no wonder that the News’ circulation is circling the drain.

The Scarbinsky column also comes in light of the righteous indignation from the Auburn fambly over the appearance of nationally syndicated talk show host Paul Finebaum at last Saturday’s game between Auburn and Mississippi State. Finebaum’s show—the Paul Finebaum Radio Network—has come under intense fambly indignation over the appearances on the show of Danny Sheridan, the USA Today Sports Analyst. Sheridan has said he has knowledge of the identities of key players in the Newton pay for play scheme. The fambly has begun mounting an email, letter and fax campaign insisting that Auburn University revoke Finebaum’s media credentials.

It also comes in light of last Spring’s events when another radio talk show host—Scott Moore—told his listeners that he had heard recordings that implicated both Cecil and Cam Newton in the pay-for-play scheme. When Moore indicated that he was willing to share that evidence on the air, the fambly rose up and hounded the radio station until Moore was forced off the air. Never mind that, regarding the existence of the recordings, Scott Moore was telling the truth.

The implications here are as chilling as they are crystal clear—bother to tell the truth about a football program under intense NCAA scrutiny, and the fambly will do everything in its power to shut you down. There will be no airing of the fambly’s dirty laundry, whether that airing is on a local radio talk show, a nationally syndicated radio talk show, or even ESPN.

Exit question: Mr. Sheridan, could you give me the odds on Auburn issuing me press credentials for the Florida game at Auburn?

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